The European Space Agency (ESA) has confirmed that the reusable Space Rider reentry vehicle will undergo a crucial design review at the end of 2019.
The uncrewed Space Rider vehicle will be capable of conducting long-term scientific missions acting as an orbiting laboratory, not unlike the Boeing X-37 spaceplane utilised by the United States Air Force. It measures 4.5 meters in length (14 feet) and is capable of carrying a payload of 800 kilograms (1,760 pounds) with a payload volume of around 1.2 cubic meters (42 cubic feet).
In addition to a number of other capabilities, the Space Rider vehicle features small cargo bay doors. The doors allow operators to deploy and retrieve experiments. It will also be used to give remote sensing payloads a clear view of a target.
“Space Rider provides the European Vega Space Transportation System with the unique opportunity to complement today’s capability to access space, with the capabilities to operate and return payloads from space for a variety of in-space applications, in a competitive manner with respect to any alternative solution,” said Giorgio Tumino, ESA’s Vega and Space Rider Development Programmes Manager.
If the Space Rider vehicle passes the design review towards the end of the year, the ESA hopes to launch the first vehicle in 2022.
Once operational, the Space Rider vehicle will be launched aboard a Vegas-C rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. Missions will last as long as 2 months following which, the vehicle will jettison its trunk section, reenter the Earth’s atmosphere, deploy its parafoil and land safely on a runway. It is as yet unclear where the Space Rider landing zone will be.